This is an occasional series featuring my favorite movie books. Before TCM and the internet, the only way to satisfy my passion to know more about Classic Hollywood was through books, books and more books. I've cleared away the clutter over the years, but many remain permanent residents in my home. You'd never throw out an old friend, now, would you?
I don't know about you, but I really hate how each new book, celebrity, movie, song, anything is instantly labeled fabulous, the best, amazing, great - only to be surpassed by tomorrow's new thing and lie discarded and forgotten a week later. "From Scarface to Scarlett: American Films in the 1930s" by Roger Dooley is, without exaggeration, a truly fabulous, great and amazing book. And I'm not kidding. I've been saying this since its publication in 1981 (actually 1979, with an update in 1981).
|"The 1930s were the golden age of film, don't you agree, Clark?"|
"Why, yes, Joan, I most certainly do!"
The book is divided into 14 mammoth sections, with corresponding subsections that are witty and insightful and chock full of descriptions of films ranging from the famous to the obscure. In a remarkable acheivement, the author personally screened almost five thousand films in a journey from television, revival houses to museums. There are facts galore, and fine criticism, but what makes this book so much fun is that Dooley writes like a real fan. A scholarly and knowledgeable one, to be sure, but a fan first and foremost. His love for the films and the stars and the era jumps off of every page. Dooley clearly considers the 1930s the apex of the studio and star system:
"In between came those ten phenomenal years that seem ever more incredible as they recede in time. Granted that then the movies were a giant industry, whose aim was to make the biggest profit by pleasing the widest public, the wonder is how many really fine pictures were produced within, or in spite of, the system. Even the most routine "B" films still show an un-self-conscious verve, pace and vitality, a crisp professionalism all too seldom seen today; dialogue is fast but clearly spoken, scenes make their point and end. The very speed of the shooting schedules left little time for self-indulgent writers, director or stars."
Here's a very small sampling (all sub-sections contain so many more references that are impossible to list here) to whet your appetite:
SECTION 1: Just Picture a Penthouse: Love Among the Millionaires
1. O Mistress Mine: Ladies with a Past
Films in this category include "Bed of Roses," "Shopworn," "Possessed," and "Camille."
|Constance Bennett and Joel McCrea in "Bed of Roses"|
Films in this category include "Red Headed Woman," "Girls About Town," "The Greeks Had a Word for Them," all of the Gold Digger films, and "42nd Street."
|Kay Francis and Lilyan Tashman in the outrageous "Girls About Town"|
Films include "Sadie McKee," "Hot Saturday," "Page Miss Glory," and "Midnight."
4. Vivacious Ladies: Working Girl Comedies.
Films include "The Gilded Lily," Hands Across the Table," "Bachelor Mother," and "Theodora Goes Wild."
|Ginger Rogers, Charles Coburn, Elbert Coplen, Jr., |
and David Niven in "Bachelor Mother"
Films include "It Happened One Night," "My Man Godfrey," "Libeled Lady," and "Bringing Up Baby."
6. Scene- Drawing Room, Late Afternoon: Comedies of Manners from the Stage.
Films include "Our Betters," "Topaze," "The Women," and "When Ladies Meet."
SECTION 7: CRIME AND PUNISHMENT: Cops and Robbers
1. "Aw Right You Guys!": The Gang's All Here.
Films include "Little Caesar," "The Public Enemy," "Scarface," and "The Roaring Twenties."
|Paul Muni and Ann Dvorak in "Scarface."|
Films include "Woman Wanted," "Mary Burns, Fugitive," "You Only Live Once," and "Ann Vickers."
3. Around the Law in Eighty Ways: Shysters, Mouthpieces and Ambulance Chasers.
Films include "A Free Soul," "The Mouthpiece," "Lawyer Man," and Counsellor-at-Law."
|Warren William and "clients" in "The Mouthpiece"|
Films include "The Great O'Malley," "G-Men," "Counterfeit," and "Show Them No Mercy."
|James Cagney on the right side of the law in "G-Men"|
Films include "The Big House," "I am a Fugitive," "20,000 Year in Sing Sing," and "Each Dawn I Die."
These are just two sections! Other sections, with endlessly entertaining sub-sections, include:
● The Plot Thickens: Intrigue, Boudoir and Otherwise
● Remembrance of Things Past: Wistful Glances Past
● Long Ago and Far Away: Escapes Still Further into the Past
● The White Man's Burden: Imperialism, Hollywood Style
● Nice Work If You Can Get It: Occupational Hazards
● Blood Will Tell: The Nonprofessionals
● The Light Fantastic: Flights of Fancy, Musical and Otherwise
● The Show Must Go On: Behind the Scenes
● People Like Us: Everyday Folks - More or Less
● In Times Like These: Films of Ideas
● Over the Rainbow: 1939 - The Best of Everything - Almost
Is your brain churning, trying to figure out in which chapter your favorite 1930s film will appear? The book is filled with wonderful stills from films you don't see every day (not even on TCM) and a more than complete glossary of titles and another or persons. What more could a movie lover ask for? It has been a treasure trove of information for me and an endless source of delight. The binding is a little cracked and the pages worn and a bit worse for the wear, but all of these "blemishes" are proof of the love I have for this wonderful book.
|Fiddle de dee this is a great book!|
It's also fascinating to view his comments from the time period it was written in -- before the pre-Code revival (many films from the early '30s were still in vaults or not part of TV syndication packages because they were deemed too racy). Norma Shearer was alive, but if she was remembered at all, it was chiefly for "Romeo And Juliet" and her later work. At the time, the name "Loretta Young" conjured up visions of her TV anthology series and her prim '40s image, not the exciting, luminous, youthful beauty we know today. Constance Bennett was barely remembered, and then only as Joan's sister or possibly the first Marion Kerby (lesser known than her TV counterpart, Anne Jeffreys). Heck, I doubt the term "pre-Code" was used at the time; Mick LaSalle was probably still in school.
It's such a great book - no pre-code "cool" - just honest fan and good scholarship and analysis.
Thank you, FlickChick. I LOVE this book!
I bought it twenty-odd years ago, read it cover to cover, and sent a thank-you letter to the author, who responded with another letter.
Even though nowadays I Google info I need in a hurry, I still consult this book for its authoritative, detailed, perceptive write-ups on the films and film genres of the 1930s. My copy is probably in even worse shape than yours!
Wish there were comparable books that cover other decades. And more film historians like Roger Dooley.
How did I not know about this book??? Oooo! And it's for sale on Amazon for 4 cents plus postage! Thanks for alerting me to this one!
4 cents1 Wow - I hope you don't have to pay $50 postage! I hope it's a good copy! Please let me know if you like it! (I know you will!).
Great, I just love your post on movie books you love. I always learn something I did not know from you Flick Chick! Thank you.
I was hopuing you spotted Kay Francis in her lingerie!
FlickChick -I follow your book recommendations closely, having been totally thrilled with my mint-condition Amazon.com copy of John Kobal's "The Art of the Great Hollywood Portrait Photographers," a book you recommended a few months ago. And it was quite a bit more than 4 cents (though worth every dollar)! Will have to check this one out...
Most fascinating, and I love that stunning shot of Gable and Crawford at the beginning.
Thanks, Lady Eve. The Kobal book is indeed worth every penny. This is another of my favorites and the massive amount of information and the clever organization and commentary makes it one of my most prized "keepers." Prices vary from the ridiculously expensive to the ridiculously cheap (I'd be a little suspicious of the condition).
You captured some of the most memorable films of that time and I couldn't agree more about the overuse of certain terms to describe stars, films etc that don't fit the term by a long shot!
This book sounds like my cup of tea. I'll be sure to add it to my Amazon 'get' list for myself by Christmas.
Thanks so much for taking the time to give us a quick peak into what is surely a fun read.
Thanks, Page. I know you'll like it if you can find it!
FlickChick, this certainly sounds like a fabulous book. I think the most compelling thing you said was about the author: "Dooley writes like a real fan. A scholarly and knowledgeable one, to be sure, but a fan first and foremost." That makes all the difference. So many books about movies seem to be written like history books without soul. Boy, I don't know how I would pick a favorite chapter either, although you know me -- the gangster era is a real love of mine. I'm going to check out the good old library first, then see if I can find it on line. You make it sound like something I've got have!
Hi Becky: I was certainly thinking of you when I decided to feature the gangster chapters! One thing I truly dislike is a "film snob." It's entertainment for the masses and I one of the masses!
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